Fire in the Mountains Review | A Subtly Political Portrait of Underdeveloped India

Ajitpal Singh’s Fire in the Mountains works primarily because of its multiple layers. It has a subtle and satiric perspective about the claimed progress and actual progress. And it also shows the struggle of a working woman against regressive traditions and opportunist people. Even though Fire in the Mountains establishes its central character within a minimal time, I felt the decision to accommodate every character’s perspective reduced the emotional impact the movie could have had.

The story is set in Uttarakhand’s Munsiyari region. Chandra, who runs a homestay at a cheap rate, is our central character. She has a husband, Dharam, who rarely contributes to the family life, and he is also highly religious. Her son can’t walk and is undergoing treatment. Her daughter is talented, but adolescence has affected her. And the family lives with Dharam’s widow sister, who thinks she is a burden to others. In the movie, we see Chandra’s tale, a woman who never got the empathy she deserved.

The movie opens with Chandra going in a hurry from her home to canvas tourists to stay at her homestay. Then we see how she had to deal with her husband, who thinks spending money for Pooja would cure their son rather than giving it to a doctor. If you look at it, it is ultimately that typical sad story of a selfless mother. But instead of making it a tear-jerker, Singh tries to make it political. A radio broadcast constantly updates us about how the PM has laid the foundation stone at Ayodhya for a temple, how India has done certain space expeditions, etc. And Ajitpal Singh places it against an undeveloped tourist village in India that calls itself “Swizerland.” He has made a system-critiquing film in the form of a tragic setup with the texture of a women empowerment story.

Vinamrata Rai, as the central character Chandra pulls off the character with believability. From her simple smile in the beginning, to soften her angry husband to her furious outburst in order to give her son proper treatment, she performs the hopeless transition of Chandra effectively. As a character, Dharam has a bit of a spoofy nature as he is created to show religion’s manipulative and controlling aspect. And Chandan Bisht’s performance gives you an idea about the easy vulnerability of the character. Harshita Tiwari as Kanchan and Mayank Singh Jaira as Prakash did their parts neatly.

While the infusion of politics into the story adds a lot of depth to the tale, the way the film tries to include the views of everyone somewhere dilutes the impact of the movie. Dharam is getting manipulated way too quickly, and he has these hallucinations of being attacked by his grandmother. Kanchan is in that Tik Tok-obsessed age where the likes and views are giving her that high. Prakash’s story was what fascinated me the most, as his physical disability had more of an emotional reason. And if you look at the film’s climax, it feels a bit too overtly symbolic and convenient. The cinematography of Dominique Colin shuttles between the breathtaking helicam shots of Uttarakhand and the confined spaces of Chandra’s house, giving you an idea about exotic superficial looks and actual ground reality.

Fire in the Mountains had its festival run in 2021, and it has now been released through SonyLIV. Ajitpal Singh’s movie is a solid portrait of those places which is largely explored only as exotic locations. If the subplots in the film, especially the one featuring Prakash, had a bit more depth and detailing, I think Fire in the Mountains would have created that much-needed disturbance in our minds.

Final Thoughts

Ajitpal Singh's movie is a solid portrait of those places which is largely explored only as exotic locations.


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.